There was a time when the job of the rookie quarterback was to stand on the sideline holding a clipboard or if he did manage to make it onto the field he’d likely throw more interceptions than completions or spend the majority of his time looking up at the sky of whichever city he was in at the time.
A poor outing in your rookie season is nothing to be to ashamed of, this is the NFL after all. Icons of the game such as Elway, Aikman and Peyton Manning had a combined record of 12-31 during their rookie years as their teams struggled behind their rookie play callers. Others would make the field sparingly or not all in their debut season. Brett Favre attempted just four passes as a rookie, two were intercepted and the other two incomplete, the Falcons traded Favre to the Packers were he became a legend. The Packers current quarterback Aaron Rodgers saw very little of the field behind Favre in his rookie year and could mostly been seen on the sideline with that dreaded clipboard. The same would happen for Philip Rivers in San Diego whilst a few years earlier Carson Palmer never even made the field during his opening season in the NFL.
That has all changed of course and rookie Quarterbacks that are drafted high in April are now expected to take command of the offense in September with success in mind.
In 2004 the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted their quarterback of the future when they took Ben Roethlisberger in the first round with the plan to be for him to watch from the sidelines and learn the system. Due to injuries to the two other QB’s on the roster, Roethlisberger was called into action during the 3rd quarter of the Steelers second game. Big Ben would keep the starting job from here on and went 13-0 in the regular season with his first loss coming in the AFC Championship game at home to the Patriots in which Roethlisberger threw 3 interceptions; the Steelers lost 41-27. This is the best outing for a rookie quarterback in his opening season; he would better it the following year though by leading the Steelers to victory in Super Bowl XL.
The following 3 drafts were disappointing for teams hoping to have the same success that the Steelers did with Roethlisberger. In 2005 Alex Smith, Vince Young in 2006 and JaMarcus Russell in 2007; however in 2008 things would change for good and the standard of rookie QB’s was significantly raised.
Matt Ryan was drafted 3rd overall by the Atlanta Falcons and lead the team to an 11-5 record and a playoff appearance. Joe Flacco was also drafted in the first round that year and helped the Ravens to the playoffs, also posting an 11-5 record. Ryan and Flacco were the first rookie quarterbacks to start all 16 games and make the playoffs. This would change the perspective that rookie Quarterbacks could not succeed straight away and this seemed to lead to a new generation of rookies that would perform at a high level in the NFL from the beginning of their NFL careers.
The Detroit Lions selected Matthew Stafford number 1 overall in 2009 and although his rookie year has halted through injury the signs were there. In 2010 Sam Bradford set an NFL records for most completions and most consecutive passes without an interception.
In 2011 four quarterbacks were taken in the first 12 picks. Cam Newton was the pick of the bunch and set the NFL alight, setting numerous rookie records including 14 rushing touchdowns, the most for a rookie. The other and less likely success story from 2011 was the Bengals Andy Dalton who led his team to the playoffs with a 9-7 record. The biggest surprise of the 2011 quarterbacks has to be the Houston Texans 5th round selection TJ Yates. Yates found himself going from the 3rd stringer to the starting quarterback in the space of 2 weeks due to injuries. Yates performed admirably leading the Texans to the playoffs and is now the back up to starter Matt Schaub.
In 2012 it will be the turn of Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin to be thrust into the spotlight as both will be starters from day 1. Luck has the unenviable task of filling the shoes left by Peyton Manning with the Indianapolis Colts. Griffin has a different kind of pressure to handle in Washington. The Redskins traded away two future first round draft picks in order to move up the draft and select Griffin. These two, much unlike others before are expected to win from day 1.
We’ll have to wait and see.